The CX-9'S arrival marks a U-turn by Mazda NZ execs, who'd resisted this large soft-roader when it first launched internationally back in 2007.
But with its facelift comes a change of heart sparked by strong interest in seven-seat SUVs.
At 5.1m long, this is a big car, with a wide track and a 2.785m wheelbase allowing a spacious cabin Its seven full-size seats allow easy one-touch access to the third row.
Underneath, however, it's similar to the CX-7, with a similar six-speed auto and the same basic suspension layout, albeit but built stronger to cope with the extra weight. The motor's a 204kW/367Nm 3.7-litre version of the Ford Cyclone engine developed by Mazda and built in Japan. No doubt CX-9 buyers will enjoy boasting their engine also powers the Mustang, though in a higher state of tune.
Nice design touches include flat side sills so you're not tripped up on entry and egress (and kids' mess sweeps easily out) plus wide-opening doors with a mid-way stop for tight parking spaces.
The boot carries 267 litres with all seats in use or 1900 (to the ceiling) with two rows folded.
The company line
Managing director Andrew Clearwater acknowledges Mazda is late into the large SUV market, "But if the price is right, specification is right and the styling attractive you can gain traction," he says. He says Mazda has had to send potential buyers in the Territory's direction, "Now that pisses me off, and we'd like to accommodate those buyers."
Developed primarily for the US, the CX-9 will compete against the likes of Ford's Territory Ghia, Hyundai's Santa Fe Elite and Toyota's Highlander Ltd, and will sell in one specification - with everything from 20-inch alloy wheels and leather seats to three-zone climate control and a 10-speaker Bose audio.
What we say
Although its side profile is generic, the front and rear views are handsome and instantly identifiable as Mazda.
Drive goes to front or rear wheels via a multi-plate clutch inside the rear diff to deliver better grip on mixed surfaces rather than true off-roading.
The specification list is reasonable, with ABS brakes, stability control, six airbags, a reversing camera, three-zone air con and more for $59,990 including three-years free servicing, warranty and roadside assist.
It's a shame there's no integrated satnav or hands-free phone capability, though all the cars will be fitted with aftermarket Parrot Bluetooth.
On the road
The CX-9 is rather impressive on the road. With 90 per cent of the torque available over a 3000rpm range there's plenty of poke to push this big body along - without using too much fuel, given the engine's turning over at a relaxed 1700rpm at 100km/h. Mazda claims an 11.3l/100km thirst; lower than the Territory from a bigger body.
City dwellers likely to buy this car will like it's tight turning circle; few large SUVs will dispatch a U-turn with such ease, or corners with such confidence. Ride is comfy, too.
Why you'll buy one
You like Mazda's zoom-zoom style and driving philosophy and regularly need seven seats.
Why you won't
If it wouldn't suit Barry Crump it won't suit you; and anyway you'll never seat seven.